Issa Barte on Bridging Art, Activism, and Storytelling

  • by Kim Visda, Writer

  • November 4, 2020

Issa Barte creates illustrations that often look like you might find them casually sketched on a coffee shop napkin. The linework is endearingly unpolished, sparse in detail, and usually flanked by handwritten words that read as if lifted from someone’s diary. If you’ve ever come across her work on Instagram, you’ll know that this intimate, pared down look is signature to her style. As a full-time artist and environmental activist, she’s fueled by one intention: to forge deeper connections.

At a time when it’s easy to hole up in our own quarantine bubbles, Issa Barte looks forward and outward—something she’s been doing long before the pandemic. In college, she took up Development Studies to learn about helping communities in need. Her art had taken a backseat then, but still, the desire to serve continued to manifest. Since then, Issa has served as a church group leader, held art therapy sessions for a mental health non-profit, and by 2021, she’ll have completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling. Like most practical fresh grads, she had her stint at a 9-to-5 job, but corporate life eventually gave way to a deeper calling.

Currently, Issa runs a non-profit with friends called For The Future. Guided by the simple philosophy of “action fueled by stories and friends,” they champion environmental conservation, support indigenous tribes, and share stories about the Philippines. It’s the living, breathing manifestation of all of Issa’s passions. With the pandemic impacting even their most far-flung partner communities, they’re constantly challenged to find more creative ways to reach out.

On top of this advocacy, one of Issa’s longest running projects remains to be her personal illustrations. Through social media, she gathers hundreds of anonymous stories and translates them into illustrations that give voice to people’s most difficult feelings. This might seem unrelated to her cause, but it’s actually an extension of her activism. In her heart of hearts, Issa Barte simply believes anyone can make a difference. It starts with the smallest human acts.

Over email, we spoke to Issa about her advocacy, adjusting to the pandemic, and why she creates not just for the world she lives in, but for the world she one day hopes to see.

Give us a snappy bio about who you are and what you do.

Hi! I'm Issa Barte; I'm an artist who explores the emotions of the people and world around me. I integrate this storytelling into my work with For The Future as its co-founder. Connecting us to act!

What do you aim to achieve with For The Future? How have you adapted your work to the pandemic?

We aim to tell stories that raise awareness for our partner communities and, in turn, create avenues for people to do something about it. We aim to make helping easily accessible and the stories we tell in service of the friends we work with. With the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to still provide ways to reach out, even if it’s online. We’ve been so lucky with our online community—they’ve been so generous throughout.

How does your creative practice inform the way you approach your cause? On the flip side, how does your cause feed your creativity?

A lot of things I do are integrated in emotion, moreso connection. When I paint or draw, it’s to understand—when I do advocacy work, it’s putting that understanding into practice. Art has been a tool to connect, really. My creativity is fueled by those connections.

To borrow the Internet’s words, this “unprecedented time” has forced us to confront many difficult truths, as well as birthed new challenges. Can you talk about your recent struggles as an artist, leader, and everyday human being?

In the time of closed doors, I've had to find other ways to connect—to my art, my team, and the world around me. How can I fight or paint for a world I cannot see? There's been a lot of adapting going on; it's not easy, but it’s happening. I always remind myself why I do the work I do. Remembering that these things are bigger than me puts me back in place.

What do you want your generation to know about being catalysts for change?

Dedication and commitment are key; intent is the fuel. Ask yourself, why do you do the things you do?

Learn more about Issa Barte’s work on her Instagram and support her non-profit For The Future by visiting their website.

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